January 2012 – Salty John : The Blog

What about those banker’s bonuses, eh! All that filthy lucre got me thinking and a plan has formed: I’m opening my own bank – Salty John’s Bank and Boat Shop. It has a certain ring to it.
I’ll lend huge sums in boat mortgages to anyone who wants them, the only criteria being that the lendees could never in their wildest dreams make the repayments. Then I’ll go spectacularly broke and, amid fears that I could bring the British economy to it’s knees, sell the whole sorry mess to the British taxpayer. Shortly after the dust has settled I’ll collect my huge performance bonus and bugger off to the Caribbean in my super yacht.
I think I’ve grasped the business model.

With more and more boaters switching from incandescent to LED navigation lights there is an emerging problem with VHF radio interference from these lighting sources.

LED lights need a constant voltage to perform properly and on most good quality LEDs this is provided by a tiny built-in controller. Some of these controllers, if not properly suppressed, can interfere with radio signals in the 30-300 MHz frequency range – just where VHF and AIS frequencies reside.

In some reported cases the interference is so bad that switching on LED lights within 10 feet of the antenna renders voice communication unintelligible and all AIS data disappears.

The LED revolution is a good thing for boats, providing reliable, long lasting, low power consumption lighting. But manufacturers need to ensure that their products do not interfere with the boats communication systems. They need to say this on the tin.

If you intend to change your masthead navigation lights to LEDs and you have a masthead mounted VHF antenna you should seek assurances that these lights will not cause interference.

The same interference problem applies to FM radio reception, but not being able to listen to the radio with the cabin lights on is an inconvenience, albeit a significant one, rather than a danger.

Check out those LEDs!

Coconuts are lovely things. The very thought of them conjures up memories of palm fronds swaying over sandy beaches on sun drenched tropical islands.

The fine pair in the picture were bobbing alongside Adriana as we waited out a cold front anchored off Puerto Patillas on the south coast of Puerto Rico. We’d been stuck there for a couple of days and the appearance of the coconuts was a very welcome diversion.

I set about cracking these two open with hammer and chisel. I’m sure the south sea islanders have a more efficient technique than the one I adopted but eventually I’d hacked off the outer coir, punched out the eyes, drained the milk into a jar and smashed the nuts into manageable pieces.

The tasty, pleasantly sweet, meat of the coconut is lower in sugar and higher in protein than other popular fruit, although it’s high in saturated fat. The coconut milk is a pleasant and refreshing drink and, more importantly, forms the basis for that excellent rum cocktail, the Piña Colada.

In Boquerón you can enjoy this pleasant concoction whilst you browse the small supermercado situated a short stroll from the beach. The owner of the shop declares in large letters on his wall that he is the King of the Piña Colada! Well, senor, I can tell you that yours weren’t a patch on the jug-full we had in that rolly anchorage off Puerto Patillas.

I’m definitely a coconut man!

The Beaufort Scale of Wind Force has been around for over 200 years; it’s still used in the BBC shipping forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the MCA. You don’t hear much of it across the pond, though, or Down Under.

When Sir Francis Beaufort first devised the scale in 1805 it was simply his assessment of wind strength, based on the observed sea conditions, so that a mariner could decide how much sail to carry – If the sea looks like this you’re in a gale and you can carry this much sail. 

More specifically, it was intended to describe the conditions under which various amounts of sail could be carried by a man-o-war, the principle warship of the time.

The scale ran from a Force 0, dead calm in which all sail would be flown, to a Force 12 in which the winds were “….such that no canvas could withstand”.

In 1831, when anemometers had been around a bit, wind speeds were applied to each of Sir Francis’ 13 levels of wind force. A Force 6 was described as a fresh breeze of 22 to 27 knots “or that in which a well conditioned man-o-war could carry, in chase, full and by, single reefed topsails and top gallant sails”.

Very evocative if you know your top gallants from your tam o’shanters.

Over time the scale was further modified and modernised. Wind speeds were added, as I’ve said, and a ‘state of sea card’ was produced bearing photographs of the sea state to be expected for each Beaufort force. Further Forces were added to cover the conditions that might prevail in tropical cyclonic storms. Wave heights are now seen on many versions of the scale.

The wind speeds which were applied to each of the Forces were, presumably, those that most closely related to the conditions that Sir Francis described. For instance F0, dead calm, is given a wind speed of less than 1 knot, something of a no-brainer, but F5 is 17 to 21 knots – it must have taken some serious debate to arrive at that range of figures.  And, inevitably, the progression of wind speeds up the scale is not linear, reflecting the exponentially increasing force on the sails as the wind speed climbs. F5 is 17 to 21 knots, whilst F10 is 48 to 55 knots – an F10 is not merely twice an F5.

The Beaufort scale is seen as an anachronism by many sailing newbies. There is a temptation to assume the Beaufort scale is simply an illogical grouping of wind speeds with no obvious conversion rate to anything else. Why not, they might think, devise some logical groupings: 0-9 knots, 10 -19 knots and so on, if it’s necessary to group wind speeds at all. Such logic is all very well if you think of Beaufort Force as simply another form of wind speed measurement such as knots, miles per hour or meters per second, for which there is a mathematical conversion.

But that isn’t where it came from; it might have been diverted to that use, but what Sir Francis Beaufort devised was a means of establishing the force of the wind by looking at the sea, a reference source to tell mariners how much sail to risk in any given condition.

Funnily enough, merchant ships at sea still determine true wind speed from sea conditions – and they supply this information to the MET office. The reason they do it this way is because anemometers mounted on large fast moving ships don’t tell the true wind speed, they measure apparent wind speed – the wind speed modified by the ships own, often very high, speed and by the effect of the ships superstructure. To get the true wind speed they rely on their deck officers who are skilled at estimating it from the sea state. Sir Francis Beaufort would be proud of them.

A big ‘thank you’ to all Salty John customers for providing such an excellent start to the 2012 campaign. This in spite of the fact that the London International Boat Show is currently in full swing.

The first week of the year brought a number of Loos tension gauge sales, mainly from Europe, Metz antennas have been flying off the shelves and sales are buoyant across a broad selection of our products including the Motor Lift, davit slings, the Hot Knife, mooring hooks and our new 100% wool watch cap.

It used to be that the London Boat Show sucked away spending in the period up to the opening of the show, presumably in anticipation of Boat Show Specials. This year we haven’t seen this effect – it seems people no longer believe they are going to get those bargains and go ahead and buy on the internet as usual.

I’m also pleased to see that trade sales of the Metz antenna have started brightly with good orders from UK and Spain.

Keep up the good work!

Once again we are seeing major storms through the UK. Winds gusting to 80 knots and more are hammering the country. Roof tiles are flying off, trees are falling, the coastline is being assaulted by massive waves and, tragically, a couple of people have died as a result.

This means, of course, that the media can report we are being hit by HURRICANES!

Well, we might have wind speeds of more than 64 knots, one of the criteria used to define a hurricane, but we aren’t having hurricanes. A hurricane is, by definition, a tropical revolving storm and we aren’t in the tropics.

I don’t think we need to sex up these large extra-tropical cyclones by calling them hurricanes. Our storm systems are powerful enough in their own right, as we’re seeing.

Hurricanes (or typhoons or tropical cyclones depending on where you are in the tropics) are quite different to extra-tropical storms. For a start they don’t have associated fronts. They have a warm core; they develop over warm water. Our storms have a cold core; they form over cold water. Hurricanes are very symmetrical and have a calm, well defined, eye. They break up quickly when encountering cold water or land.

Hurricanes are more powerful, generally, but smaller in size than extra-tropical storms.

It isn’t just wind speed that defines a hurricane.

As Salty John starts its seventh year as a supplier of uncommon boating kit I’d like to thank all our customers for their support – and wish everyone all the very best for a Happy and Healthy 2012.